Published on April 6th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour


Whatever will bee will bee

An innovative pub idea could easily fly, as Alastair Gilmour discovers


Every pub and restaurant in the North East should have its own beehive – and Gateshead beekeeper Mark Chambers, whose opinion that is, is buzzing with ideas to get the idea off the ground. 

Honey has countless uses in kitchens and for making beer; it’s as natural a foodstuff as you’ll get – it’s liquid gold loaded with health-giving
and medicinal properties. Producing honey is
also educational, therapeutic, and encourages social responsibility.

Even in urban and suburban areas, honey yields can be surprisingly high and of superb quality. “It can easily be a local and bespoke product,” says Mark, a former soldier and prison officer. “Leam Lane (Gateshead) honey is fantastic.”

Mark keeps hives all over the region – particularly around Bywell and Corbridge in Northumberland – and on the heather moors of Argyll in the West of Scotland. And because he transports them to and from Tyneside he sells his honey and byproducts under the name The Travelling Bee Company.

When hives are nestled among hen harrier nesting sites with golden eagles soaring overhead, it adds to the mystery and romance.

Mark says: “I take my Geordie bees around the North East and to Scotland in late July and early August to take advantage of flower crops, so you’ll get rapeseed in the early summer, willow herb and Himalayan balsam.

“In research done by Glasgow University, heather honey has been found to be superior to Manuka honey in all but one test (New Zealand Manuka honey is prized for its unique antimicrobial and nutritional qualities). Heather honey can taste different every year and there’s only a very short period to make it; the hives will shut down between October and March.”

A typical hive can produce anywhere from nothing to 90 pounds of honey, so there’s a lot of crossed fingers involved. For example, bees are never too happy in wet and windy weather and predators like wasps take their toll. If that weren’t enough, when a queen gets old, she’ll not produce as many eggs and when a new one takes over she’ll have only two weeks in which to mate, otherwise the colony will die.

“Everything and everybody wants honey, from ants to bears,” says Mark. “Woodpeckers drill their way into hives.”

He filters the honey only once to get rid of odds and ends using an apple press, so it’s very pure and unprocessed, then jars up to 40 kilos at a time by hand. He also supplies honeycomb, pollen, balms, soaps, solid perfumes and candles through market stalls. Quilliam Brothers Tea House in Newcastle is an enthusiastic stockist.

Co-owner Patrick Quilliam says: “I think pubs and restaurants having beehives is a brilliant idea. We used to keep bees ourselves in Wylam, but they got killed off by pesticides. I think it was Vince Cable who said instead of worrying about the economy we should be doing something about the bees because without them there would be no economy to worry about.  We use honey as a sweetener in our teas – it’s so natural and different honeys bring out the character of different teas. It’s also a great talking point.”

Quilliam Brothers have also collaborated with Wylam Brewery in producing Sheer Chai, a beer created using Himalayan and Indian green teas that give flavours of liquorice root, dried oranges, green cardamom, cinnamon and pistachio nuts.

Alongside local wild flower and heather honeys, The Travelling Bee Company involves a “guest” supplier based in France. Alaard the flying Dutchman sends over French lavender honey, almond blossom, orange blossom and Spanish Dark Mountain honey. It’s a bit like a pub stocking quality local beers alongside exciting and innovative ones to keep interest high.

As well as pubs keeping beehives, Mark Chambers (pictured left) believes schools should introduce bees into the curriculum – in fact, he uses them successfully in youth projects he’s involved with in Newcastle.

“It’s all about sustainability,” he says “I like to catch young people before they get to a custodial sentence stage.

“Bees and other social insects are very similar in behaviour to people; we can learn a lot from them. Bees are very, very interesting; we’ll never know all that they know.”

*Details of The Travelling Bee Company at Facebook.com


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Alastair Gilmour

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